Auckland can be rated world-best city

1:20 PM Friday June 17, 2016 True Commercial

Auckland, named this year as the city with the world's third-best quality of life, can make it to the top of the list if it continues the drive to build more precincts like Britomart, the Wynyard quarter and the new $680m Commercial Bay development at the foot of Queen and Albert Sts.

John Schellekens, CBRE's national director, structured transactions and advisory services, says more of the fine development work of recent times by Auckland Council and private developers will deliver "better urban development outcomes" - and could be the basis for Auckland to make it to No. 1.

The quality of life survey, by recruitment consultancy Mercer, ranked 230 cities earlier this year on factors such as culture and environment, political stability, safety, housing, education, and ease of doing business. Austrian capital Vienna was the top-ranked city globally, followed by Zurich in Switzerland.

"I've heard it said you can have a great city with poor architecture but you can't have a great city with poor urban design," Schellekens says.

"Ideally, you want both but strong urban design outcomes are essential for creating great places and great cities.

Schellekens says precinct development has shown how large-scale and longer-term partnerships deliver better outcomes.

"Precincts or communities with strong urban design are transformative; it is happening in Auckland right now and these developments are a big part of the changing face of our city."

"Locations like Cooper & Company's Britomart, Panuku Development Auckland's North Wharf and Sky City's Federal Street are the go-to destinations for diners, shoppers and tourists. It's the curated nature of these locations that attract people and that is only possible with a precinct focus," says John Holmes, director of structured transactions & advisory services for CBRE.

Commercial Bay, bounded by the Viaduct and Wynyard quarter on one side and Britomart on the other, will link four existing buildings to a new 39-storey office block, to be called PwC Tower, with 100 shops, many of international status, and restaurants at lower Albert and Lower Queen Sts.

To be built on the recently-closed Downtown Shopping Centre site, it will include tunnels to the City Rail Link (CRL) now under construction; it will be a major part of the area's transport hub which includes cruise ships, ferries and the Albert St bus interchange.

Holmes says overseas examples show precinct development around railway stations outside the CBD - like those of the CRL - greatly adds to a city's urban design, shape and feel, with 'mixed use' residences, retail and commercial buildings.

Examples of such Transit-Oriented Developments (TODs) include Green Square station in Sydney. Opened in 2000, its position on the Airport rail line made it a strategically desirable place.

Now Green Square Town Centre is on the way, a public-private sector partnership building a neighbourhood with excellent transport connections, active commercial, community and cultural life, with high density living, public spaces, green infrastructure, retailing and growth of local industry (such as creative industries).

It will include 90,000 sq m of commercial and retail area and 4000 dwellings, expected to accommodate 8000 residents and 6000 workers respectively. All 174 units of the first residential phase were sold off the plans over one week in November 2014.

Once completed, Green Square Town Centre will be a highly sought after precinct, given its proximity to the CBD via train and buses, and will be one of the largest urban renewal projects in metropolitan Sydney over the next decade.

"We are not saying all the proposed new CRL stations and suburban rail corridors can be developed that way, but the potential certainly exists and it represents an elegant solution to the housing and transport infrastructure challenges Auckland face," says Holmes.

Schellekens says bigger land parcels with contiguous ownership encourage better developments with better design and a long-term broad focus: "If the Britomart and Wynyard Quarter had been held in smaller parcels of land with all the various owners just looking after their own particular project, neither area would be what it is today.

"Credit must also go to Auckland Council via its central city planning framework and Panuku Development Auckland for their key role in driving the precinct focus that we see across parts of the city.

"The growing focus on public private partnering is also a key part of the story. We are blessed with a growing base of capable and well-resourced developers, many of whom have forged strong partnerships with the city including Cooper & Company, Precinct Properties, Willis Bond, Todd Property and Ockham Residential to name a handful. That list is growing."

Panuku's positive influence on Auckland is set to grow, with Manukau, Onehunga, Pakuranga and Ormiston all part of the Panuku vision for precinct development.

"The blueprint for what can be achieved exists; central and local government have a part to play, of course; their focus needs to be on leverage they have beyond policy and regulation, to influence great outcomes," says Schellekens.

"We need more of these projects, and an increased focus; these projects will establish precincts New Zealanders can look back on in 20 years and be proud of."

Read more from CBRE here